Miriam Lord: Olympian effort as FG bluebloods go toe to toe in boxing ring
A repentant Leo is smarting for his sins after troublesome week
Olympic silver medallist and Fine Gael councillor Kenneth Egan does battle (of sorts) with Senator Neale Richmond
We can think of no better way for a Brexit spokesman to escape the relentless bilge of his godforsaken lot in life than to climb into a boxing ring with an Olympic silver medallist and get beaten around the head for three minutes.
Three minutes? That’s nothing, when your ears have been taking a hammering from ill-informed puffed-up blusterers for the last two years.
As a Government spokesman on Brexit, Senator Neale Richmond regularly appears on British TV and radio to calmly represent the Irish and EU factual position, often in the face of outlandishly misleading arguments from the darlings of the blue passport brigade.
Last Friday in the National Stadium, he got rid of some of that pent-up Brexit frustration by squaring up to Kenneth Egan, the boxing champ who also happens to be a Fine Gael councillor. It was part of a big charity fight night organised by Olympic gold medallist Michael Carruth in aid of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland. Volunteers gloved up to take their chances with boxing stars Egan, Carruth, Andy Lee, John Joe Nevin and Paddy Barnes.
Egan challenged Richmond on Twitter to a politician-on-politician fight, and he accepted. “I went toe-to-toe with Kenneth. It’s not something I’d like to do again,” says the Senator. “I know it was only one round, but people don’t realise how tough it is. Kenneth was a complete gentleman, but it still hurts.”
The skirmish took nothing out of Egan. The same can’t be said of his opponent, one of 15 all-comers he toyed with on the night. “I made the mistake of going in a bit too hard early on,” explained Richmond, trying to salvage some honour. “So he had to show who was in charge, even though he was still only in second gear. But there was no way of stopping him. It was very scary.”
To his credit, Richmond didn’t end up on the canvas. (Because Kenneth was being too much of a complete gentleman.)
“I managed to walk out under my own steam.”
Leo smarting for his sins
Still smarting from the mauling he got after making a complete bags of what he probably thought was a very clever analogy when he started into it (let’s face it, we’ve all been there), the Taoiseach must be wondering if he was too quick to rule himself out of the running as a compromise candidate for the European Commission president.
The fallout from Wednesday’s “secretly sinning parish priest” jibe at Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had scandalised TDs reaching for the smelling salts in the chamber the following day, a bishop on radio criticising the Taoiseach’s remarks, parish priests from around the country contacting their local deputies in disgust, and Joe Duffy providing free counselling via Liveline.
By Thursday afternoon, Leo did the right thing by unreservedly apologising all round him. We hear Fianna Fáil is delighted and poor martyred Micheál is currently maintaining a dignified silence.
The Taoiseach’s tasteless remark reverberated all over Leinster House. A Labour adviser said politicians from all parties received complaints. “An angry parish priest rang Brendan [Howlin] about it this morning. Imagine, priests are so annoyed they’re even ringing us – the Labour Party!”
Brussels was a picnic for Leo compared to the Dáil. At the summit earlier in the week, his break with Angela Merkel over her choice of Frans Timmermans for the top commission job was widely commented upon. Speculation focused mainly on it being a play by Leo to keep Michel Barnier’s name in the game.
It was a tough few day’s work for the EU leaders. The Taoiseach was asked if he would recommend Brussels for a short break. “It’s a great place for a weekend break, but I wouldn’t recommend it midweek.”
Meanwhile, the Irish contingent over for the summit were wishing civil servant Joe Hackett all the best for the future. Hackett has served valiantly for the last six years in Brussels, first as foreign and security policy ambassador, and then in the thankless, most unsexy task of Coreper 1 ambassador (Committee of Permanent Representatives 1 – dealing with all the non-Brexit issues like agriculture,environment, the single market, telecoms, etc).
Now the highly regarded and popular diplomat is returning to Iveagh House as an assistant secretary and to an uncertain fate – foreign affairs is engaged in a major staff reorganisation, the result of which should be apparent in a few days.
Hackett said his farewell to Coreper 1 and fellow ambassadors on Thursday, with an elegant speech in which he confessed to having come to Brussels as something of a EU sceptic but would be returning to Dublin to fight its corner.
The union, he told them, was a vital, but fragile flower which needs careful nurturing.
Ross calls on reinforcement
There was a lot of gossip on the Winston Churchtown front this week when the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Transport was seen around Leinster House in the company of a vastly-experienced media adviser.
What could this mean? Discord in the Independent Alliance camp? A desperate cry for help from Shane Ross after he mixed up the name of yet another Irish sports star? (This week, he called the fantastic Kellie Harrington Katie Harrington. It’s damned hard for a chap to tell one role-model boxing woman from another.)
Or perhaps Ross, aka Winston Churchtown, was running scared following the appointment of showboating Marc MacSharry as his Fianna Fáil front-bench shadow and wanted to beef up his team.
It was confirmed this week that Richard Moore has joined the gaffe-prone minister as his media adviser. Moore, who runs a successful communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before ending up as a political/media adviser to a succession of ministers from the two main parties.
He worked for Fine Gael’s Alan Dukes and Michael Lowry (in the early Fine Gael days before the Moriarty tribunal found him out) and he was also an adviser to Mary O’Rourke and then moved on to work with Dermot Ahern when he was minister for foreign affairs. He came to prominence during the 2011 presidential election when he was hired to handle the media campaign of unknown quantity, businessman Seán Gallagher, who came from nowhere to finish second.
Despite all the theories, the reason for the new arrival is far more run-of-the-mill. Winston’s long-serving media adviser, Carol Hunt, has taken some time off for personal reasons and the Minister has hired old hand Moore to fill the gap until Hunt’s return in three months' time.
A fond farewell to Hoban’s
James Hoban’s, the Washington DC watering hole frequented by the Irish diplomatic community and visiting politicians, is closing next Saturday.
The bar-restaurant on Dupont Circle was dubbed “the Charlie Bird club for lonely foreign correspondents” after the homesick RTÉ journalist was filmed in the bar gazing wistfully into his pint as he fell out of love with life in the big city.
Over the years, Hoban’s Irish pub was a popular meeting spot for the invading St Patrick’s week contingents of ministers, advisers and journalists, while fresh off-the-boat Irish invariably made a bee-line to the bar to find their bearings.
Lawyer-turned publican Patrick Whelan, who is from Stradbally in Laois, opened the pub 12 years ago with his wife Regina. It is named after James Hoban, the Irish architect who designed the White House (with a major nod to Leinster House in his plans).
The Whelans will continue running their two other restaurants – The Bards in Philadelphia and O’Faolain’s in Sterling Virginia.
They are inviting customers and friends to join them for a “parting glass” on July 13, their last trading day.
According to local media reports, the bar is expected to reopen in December after a multimillion dollar overhaul. It will be called The Admiral, in a nod to civil war hero Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont, in whose honour the famous traffic circle is named.
The new owners are described as a “millennial targeting restaurant group”. No doubt the Guinness sniffers from foreign affairs will have an alternative bolt-hole sorted by St Patrick’s week next March.
All roads lead to Lahinch
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open pro-am had the usual smattering of politicians teeing off among the business big wigs and sporting and showbiz celebrities.
Former taoiseach Enda Kenny stood out on the famous Lahinch links in his bright yellow and blue ensemble, a nod to the host county of Clare. Also playing was former tánaiste Dick Spring, a keen golfer who still turns out for the Oireachtas Golfing Society when time permits. His playing partners included developer Bernard McNamara.
Mayo Senator, Fine Gael’s Paddy Burke, a former cathaoirleach, was on the timesheet as was Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, who was with his brother James.
We also noted Waterford TD John Deasy, currently embroiled in a raging constituency row with local party colleagues, among the political players. Deasy, who is the Government’s envoy to the US senate and spends much of his time in the US, is a keen golfer. He was partnered with Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney when the American president visited his Doonbeg golf resort last month and played a few rounds.
One of the TD’s playing partners on Wednesday was Irish Mail on Sunday journalist John Lee, who we last saw driving his friend Deasy from the Doonbeg clubhouse on the night they dined at a table next to Trump. The enterprising Lee scooped his colleagues with his exclusive report from the locked-down golf resort, writing that his “brass neck and a bit of luck” helped him wangle a seat and dinner with Donald.